A new study suggests that taking statins is associated with a 39% reduction in risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. A team of Boston University epidemiologists reported here Wednesday that a study of Alzheimer’s patients and their family members suggests that taking statins is associated with a 39% reduction in risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Robert C. Green, associate professor of neurology, Boston University School of Medicine presented the new findings at the 8th International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders.
Dr. Green and colleagues studied 895 Alzheimer’s patients and 1483 family members of Alzheimer’s patients. Using detailed questionnaires, the researchers gathered information on diet, age, sex, education, medical history and medications.
Twenty-three of the Alzheimer’s disease patients had a history of statin use, while 60 of the healthy, non-demented relatives used statins.
While statin use was associated with a 39% reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, subjects who used nonstatin cholesterol-lowering drugs did not have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The association between statin use and lower disease risk was not affected by the presence or absence of APOE genotype.
Even with these small numbers, statins were the only cholesterol-lowering treatment that demonstrated a statistically significant protective effect.
Dr. Brian Austen of St. George’s Medical School said that once cholesterol enters brain cells, it begins to "act like a raft" that attracts amyloid precursor protein, to which beta amyloid attaches, forming amyloid plaques.
Statins can cross the blood-brain barrier and block plaque formation and statins are the only cholesterol-lowering treatment that works at this cellular level.
In September, the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study Group will begin a year-long randomized, trial to compare the effects of simvastatin (Zocor) with placebo in patients with established Alzheimer’s disease. The study, which is being funded by the National Institute on Aging, will enroll 400 patients.
Dr. Leon Thal, principal investigator of the new study, said that simvastatin was selected because although most statins can penetrate the brain, simvastatin is slightly more effective at doing so.
Dr. Green cautioned that it is too early for doctors to begin prescribing statins as "either an Alzheimer’s treatment or as a way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease."